One of India’s first professional female lighting designers Lynne Fernandez, talks to Subhajit Roy about her journey in the field of lighting, her professional experiences and her lighting designing philosophy.

What brought you into the lighting designing?

I used to be an actress with Theatre Action Group (TAG), Delhi. In the mid-80s, when I got my first job, I decided to stop acting because I no longer had time for extended rehearsals. Barry John, our Director said to me: “Why are you quitting the group? Try your hand at something else.” So, I tried sound, costumes, backstage – but nothing caught my imagination! Then, our Lighting Designer left Delhi and Barry asked if I wanted to take a shot at lighting TAG’s next play. I said to Barry: “How can I do lights? I know nothing about it!” And his response was: “So, learn!” And that’s what I did – I spent hours in the British Council Library and the American Centre Library; photocopied many, many, many books; spent many hours playing with a torch – trying to figure out how beams work and what can be done with shadows. And once I lit my first performance, I knew this is it. I had found my true calling.

What is it that fascinates you about light?

I love that something you cannot physically touch can be so present.  That you can sculpt and paint with light. Create a physical space for a performer. Underline a heartbeat or a breath and at the same time highlight a leap or a spin. It’s fundamental to life itself – can we see without light? And it’s a mystery (is it a wave or a particle?) – it’s magic.

Nrityagram Photo: Nan Melville

Shiva Ashtakam Photo: Wildlight

What’s your lighting designing philosophy?

Light reveals and enhances – the choreographer’s intent, shapes, movements, stillness, rhythms, silence. Light underpins emotional shifts and highlights dramatic moments.

And even though, the Lighting Designer is integral to a dance performance, you are an artist who reveals and enhances a choreographer’s creation – you are not the creator.

Keep it uncomplicated. Quiet. Subtle.

What are the challenges you faced at the beginning of your journey in the field of lighting?

Being a woman in a “man’s” world. Everyone assumes you couldn’t possibly know anything about lights!


Surupa Sen & Bijayini Satpathy Photo: Nan Melville

Surupa Sen & Bijayini Satpathy Photo: Nan Melville

What does it take to successfully lighting a space?

Lighting is three-dimensional, but I believe there is a fourth dimension that’s equally important. The colours, the subtle shifts in intensity create a visceral response to a work that extends and deepens the impact of that work. For me the challenge and the quest are to find and bring to life that fourth dimension.

What was your most challenging experience in a project you’ve worked on, and why?

I worked with Ranjit Kapoor on “Prisoner of Malabar Hill”, which builds up to and ends with a storm. And Ranjitbhai said: “I don’t want to use water. Lynne, create rain with lights”.

Now, if I was a trained Light Designer, I might have known in an instant what technique I could use. But because am not formally trained, it took me weeks of trial and error until I discovered, in an accidental eureka moment, that the silver tinsel from my “chunni” was the answer I was looking for.

So, I made a curtain with silver tinsel, used a fan to gently move the curtain; and lit the tinsel with narrow beams (profiles) focussed from the sides with R80 (dark blue) gel.

Like I said, if I was trained, I might have found an answer quicker or maybe it already existed at that time – I just didn’t know where to look!

Apart from being an ace lighting designer, you are the managing trustee of Nrityagram – a unique dance village. How do you balance the two?

My heart lies in my work as Lighting Designer and that gives me the energy to deal with my work as a Managing Trustee, which again is something I am not trained to do. And since we didn’t have templates in India to manage the arts, here also I’ve had to reinvent the wheel as it were.

The biggest incentive and reward has been that I am a part of the extraordinary work that comes out of Nrityagram; that my lighting has contributed in some way to the look, the “luminosity” that characterises the Ensemble; and that I have worked with Surupa Sen, who I believe is one of the finest choreographers of our time.



What advice would you suggest to budding lighting designers?

Most people will not notice your lighting but everyone will be affected by it.  Keep it that way.

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